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Why it’s up to leaders to reconnect the disconnect

At the end of 2021, BoldHRTM conducted two polls to gauge the sentiment of professionals on the biggest talent priorities facing business in 2022.

Conducted in partnership with Maxxia, 300+ HR Leaders responded that the great resignation followed by staff wellbeing were their greatest priorities. The same question put to 850 workers, showed that staff wellbeing followed by return to office tensions were their two biggest priorities for 2022.

Lowered wellbeing and heightened resistance are certainly key themes playing out across private and public sector currently, and those are the first places where leadership must play their part to reconnect the disconnect.

Disconnection is a major social side-effect of Covid 

And in the history of the world the workforce has never been this disconnected. That’s a huge statement, but when you pause for just a second, it’s obviously true. We’ve worked shoulder to shoulder on the hunt, in the cave, in the fields, in the factories and now today, in the office. We have always been side by side at work. But not for the last two years.

You might be thinking ‘wait a minute I’ve never been more connected – I’m on TEAMS all day!’.  Well, digital connection doesn’t work the same way.

Connection has been proven to be a major contributor to lowered wellbeing during the pandemic – research shows that a high number of regular, positive interactions have a direct correlation to general happiness and resilience and a low number of interactions and / or poor quality, negative interactions will negatively affect your wellbeing. Regardless of the strength of your social networks, physical distancing increases depressive symptoms, generalised anxiety disorder, intrusive thoughts, and acute stress.

Disconnection is a major social side-effect of Covid, and it is having a material impact on the wellbeing of our workforce. And ‘my leader’ is among the most influential of those interactions – both positive and negative.

Burnout might be the next global pandemic.

The Adecco Group’s latest research shows that Australia is suffering the highest levels of burnout globally and the highest return to office anxiety. Leaders are central to the solution to both burn out (by actively managing workloads and negotiating expectations) and return to office anxiety (by creating a third way of working that is personalized).  However, they are themselves experiencing high levels of burn-out and struggling to respond to the challenge.

Disconnection destroys trust

Globally, the relationship between staff and their leaders has deteriorated by 17 points.  Less than half of non-managers feel their relationship with their leader is good. PWC tells us that the #1 thing workers want today is simply good co-workers. For the first time ever workers are putting their foot down on toxic relationships because trust matters more. 

The pandemic has created an unprecedented hostile psychological environment for our workforce.  As a result, psychological safety is at an all-time low.  Disconnection creates a threat response in our workforces, giving rise to transactional relationships and the burden of distrust often results in poor behaviours which spiral into greater distrust. 

In short, we have an exhausted workforce and exhausted leaders yet we also have economic headwinds that require our workforces to be more resilient, to rebuild trust and strengthen relationships, and be open to further change. All things our workforce wants but aren’t currently able to give.

So what do we focus on to enable a return to a resilient, engaged and psychologically secure workforce? Our leaders, and in particular our mid-level leaders – what I call the B-SuiteTM.  

B-Suite leaders play a critical role in engagement, well-being, trust, resilience – in fact every key driver we’ve looked at in this article.  McKinsey calls them a ‘critical but neglected’ cohort, and they are increasingly the fulcrum upon which corporate success is delicately balanced.  Without addressing their confidence, capability and capacity, organisations will fail to reconnect the disconnect.


Written by Rebecca Houghton.
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Rebecca Houghton
Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’ ($29.95), is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level. Her passion is helping to evolve how leaders think, take action and relate to others, working with leaders and leadership teams to achieve greater impact.


Rebecca Houghton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.